Big Pot, Small Pot

We’ve had a bit of a coffee quandary in our household recently. The nagging question was about the size of our coffee pot.

We admit it: we like coffee and drinks quarts, if not gallons, of it each week. But that reality doesn’t really address the optimal pot size issue.

We had a small Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, shown above at right. The pot indicates it makes four cups of coffee, if you fill the pot to the brim, but that’s pretty misleading. Coffee pot “cups” are as arbitrarily undersized as the mysterious “servings” you see described on food packaging. This particular pot might hold four dainty cups that could be sipped by effete French elves, but it basically made enough for one steaming American mug of the black brew. It wasn’t wasteful, because we promptly drank every drop in the fresh pot, but we ended up making new pots constantly and walking around with partially filled cups so everyone could get their share of that precious caffeine. This clearly was not an ideal situation.

So we upped our game to the 12-cup Black and Decker model, which makes more than enough coffee to fill three cups—the kind with handles that you actually find in your cupboard—and more besides. We’re making fewer fresh pots of coffee, for sure, but estimating proper water intake to get the right pot size under the circumstances is more of a challenge. With the shrimpy model, you made a full pot every time, but the increased pot size requires careful consideration of your household’s likely coffee intake over the next hour or so. You’re aiming for the sweet spot that allows everyone to drink their fill of joe without leaving that remainder in the pot that boils down to an oil-like sludge that will curl your teeth if consumed. (Of course, on some days that oil-like sludge is precisely what you need to get that extra jolt.)

So, big honker, or elfin? All told, I’ll go for the bigger pot.

Pots Forsaken

There’s been a game-changing development at the coffee station on my floor.  The old multi-pot coffee device — the kind that is directly linked to the water supply so that steaming tureens of joe can be prepared to sate the thirsty appetite of java junkies — has been ignominiously unplugged and cast aside.  Now we’ve got a Flavia machine instead.

IMG_5158Is this change a big deal, really?  I’ll say!  The old machine was my dependable morning friend.  Every day when I got to the office my inviolate routine was to head directly to the coffee station, turn the machine on, remove the basket, insert a fresh filter, cut open a coffee packet and dump it in, press the brew button, and then listen to the hot water and coffee grounds start to cluck and burble and work their caffeinated magic.  By the time I checked email and finished my first few chores of the day a fresh pot was there, black and fragrant and ready to fill my cup.

But coffee habits have changed.  Now when you walk around downtown Columbus you inevitably see throngs of people carefully gripping their coffee cups, taking a scalding sip now and then as they head to their workplaces.  Some of them won’t drink “office coffee” any more, so there is less need for multiple pots of coffee on the burner, and much of the coffee that is brewed goes unconsumed and ultimately gets poured down the drain.

Hence, the Flavia.  Rather than making a hearty, bubbling pot of coffee, it hisses out a solo cup prepared from pre-measured foil packets that slide into a slot that snaps out of the machine.  And it’s not really a full cup, either — as least not in my massive mug.  No, the Flavia machine fills to about the halfway point and stops.  It makes my morning coffee look a bit lost and overwhelmed and forlorn, but at least I’m not being wasteful.

Song Of The Percolators

Our kitchen on Lake Temagami had no electricity.  All cooking was done over propane-fueled flame.  That meant no toaster, no microwave, and no Mr. Coffee.  We made our morning coffee the old-fashioned way, in metal percolators.

The slow process set a good rhythm for the day.  First, remove the cold metal fittings — the stalk, the basket, and the lid — from the pot, then fill it most of the way with water.  Insert the basket onto the stalk.  Open the coffee can, smell those savory dark brown grounds, and feel the crunch as you spoon out the coffee until the basket is filled.  Put the lid on the basket and stalk, and place them upright in the pot.  Turn on the burner and hear the hiss of the gas.  Light it, and watch the little flames ignite until a tiny circle of blue dances in the kitchen darkness.  Put the pot on the burner.  Then, repeat the process for percolator #2.

Soon enough, the percolators will begin to sing their song.  Jets of steam will skreee from their spouts, and the pots will cluck and and rattle as the heated coffee circulates through the grounds in the basket and plops against the inside of their glass percolation bulbs.  When the pots are burbling furiously and the coffee seen through the bulb is black, you’re done.  Turn off the burner, pour out that piping hot liquid into your cup, and let it warm your hands as you inhale the dark aroma and let the coffee cool a bit.  Then, take a tentative first sip.  Ahhhh!

I’m back home, drinking coffee from our electric brewer.  It’s very good, but I miss the song of the percolator.  It’s a song that I haven’t heard in a long time — one of the sounds that I associate with childhood, like the whistle of a tea kettle or the comforting hum of static from the TV when programming ended for the day.

Coffee, Or Tea?

We’ve recently come into possession of some old coffee pots and teapots.  One is ceramic, one looks like it was taken from a cowboy’s campfire, and one seems to be a metal approximation of frilly lace.  My favorite is a vintage, battered copper teapot that has been in Kish’s family for generations — and that looks like it might have inspired the children’s song “I’m a little teapot, short and stout.”

In my view, at least, they’re much more interesting and visually appealing than the bland glass and plastic-topped Mr. Coffee-type pots that you see everywhere these days.  They harken back to the days when coffee was brewed in a working pot, and then transferred to a fancier container to serve guests after a nice meal.

Mornings Without Coffee

The other day we were removing the coffee pot from the dishwasher while it was still hot.  An unintentional, yet undue, amount of pressure, and the pot cracked — and now we are without coffee in the morning.

This is probably, oh, I don’t know, the thousandth time we have broken a glass coffee pot.  Why do they have to be so absurdly delicate?  I wonder whether we might just be better off returning to the stainless steel percolators of my youth.  Those sturdy devices could be dropped by a clumsy kid charged with drying the dishes — or, for that matter, hurled full force against a brick wall by an angry Dick Butkus — and still be fully operational.  Now that I think of it, I might be willing to endure a subtle metallic tang in the morning roast in exchange for the security of increased durability.

Of course, we can get a replacement pot.  However, it is a Cuisinart coffeemaker, so you can’t get the pot just anywhere.  We’ll now have to brave the parking space hell and frenzied hordes of holiday shoppers at Easton, thereby raising our blood pressure and stress levels to stratospheric heights.

In the meantime, the coffee maker looks kind of forlorn, sitting there with a gaping void at its black heart. And the absence of coffee in the morning leaves a pretty huge hole in the morning routine.